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Australia, NZ: Shares lower as ECB disappoints

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[BENGALURU] Australian shares were lower for a second straight day on Friday, with financials losing heavily after the a European Central Bank meeting shed no light on future monetary policy moves.

President Mario Draghi on Thursday said the ECB will study options to ensure it can pursue its unprecedented money-printing programme but did not hint at the anticipated extension of its asset purchases, maintaining the March end-date.

Investors had expected the central bank to respond to pressure for further easing by announcing an extension to its asset purchase programme by year-end.

The ECB also cut its 2017 economic growth forecast to 1.6 per cent from 1.7 per cent seen in June.

The Australian main index fell to its lowest since early July, down 42.35 points, or 0.8 per cent, at 5,343.40 by 0308 GMT.

"Essentially, the ECB meeting was disappointing," said Bill Keenan, head of equities and research at Lonsec.

Gains in basic materials and energy, which came on the back of a weaker US dollar, were offset by losses in financials and healthcare stocks.

Australia's biggest banks by market cap, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corp, were both about 1.5 per cent lower, as was National Australia Bank .

The healthcare sector was pulled down by biotech firm with European exposure CSL Ltd, which shed 2 per cent.

Laboratory services provider Sonic Healthcare and hospital operator Ramsay Health Care lost about 2.8 per cent each.

Consumer stocks lost too, as retailers Wesfarmers Ltd and Woolworths Ltd lost 0.8 per cent and 1.6 per cent respectively.

Mining majors Rio Tinto Ltd and BHP Billiton Ltd added 1.6 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively.

However, gold miner Newcrest Mining was nearly 3 per cent lower, dragged the sector down.

Energy stocks were higher on oil prices, which surged more than 4 per cent on Thursday before pulling back on profit-taking.

Oil Search Ltd gained 3.5 per cent, while sector heavyweight Woodside Petroleum was 0.6 per cent higher.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was 0.7 per cent, or 52.42 points, lower at 7,482.3.

The benchmark was pulled lower by financials, utilities and industrials, the biggest index constituents.

Internet-auction website Trade Me Group was the biggest loser on the index. Westpac Banking Corp was one per cent lower.

Air New Zealand and Auckland International Airport , down 5 per cent and 3 per cent respectively, were also among the biggest losers.